A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION: THE GENERAL WORLD AND NIGERIA IN PERSPECTIVE.
Branham Paul Chima (PaulPipar)
This article fights to dish out some notable historical and important details about the prestigious Legal profession. Meanwhile, putting into consideration the whole world and our country Nigeria. Many persons today, learned and lay men admire the Legal profession, and the same forever honour names like Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN, Wole Olanipekun SAN, Abraham Lincoln, Joe Jamail. But yet many of these same persons do not know about the genesis of the Legal profession.
Even some lawyers and some law students are not innocent of this sin. Well, as the preceding words have promised, this article will sprinkle some knowledgeable insights on the history of the Legal profession. However, I strongly advise that you orchestrate and execute some personal research on this salient aspect of the Legal profession.
- GENERAL WORLD
As most scholars will tell you, no one really knows who the first lawyer in history was, but we do know without a seed of doubt that there were ancient lawyers who paved the way for today’s modern lawyers. Also, the early Legal profession was stratified with lawyers that specialized in the Law and others that specialized in Rhetorics, which meant that clients might have to visit two different lawyers to handle their case.
The Legal profession has its ancestral bloodline from the ancient Greece and Rome. Although in Greece it was prohibited to collect payments for pleading the cause of another, but as always expected from humans, this rule was widely flouted. A skilled and regulated profession developed gradually during the late Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire: advocates acquired more status, and a separate class of notaries appeared. (Take note that a Notary in the legal parlance means “someone legally empowered to prepare, take, and record legal instruments for private parties and provide legal advice, but does not appear in court on clients’ behalf.)
The earliest people who could be depicted as “Lawyers” were probably the orators of Ancient Athens. However, Athenian orators faced severe structural obstacles.
First, there was a rule that individuals were supposed to plead their own cases, which was soon bypassed by the increasing tendency of individuals to ask a "friend" for assistance. However, around the middle of the fourth century, the Athenians disposed of the casual request for a friend.
Secondly, a graver obstacle, which the Athenian orators never completely overcame, was the rule that no one could take a fee to plead the cause of another. This law was widely ignored in practice, but was never abolished, which meant that orators could never present themselves as Legal professionals or experts. They had to uphold the Legal fiction that they were merely an ordinary citizen generously helping out a friend for free, and thus they could never organize into a real profession - with professional associations and titles and all the other pomp and circumstance - like their modern counterparts. Therefore, if one is to peg down those men who could practice the legal profession openly and legally, then the first lawyers would have to be the orators of ancient Rome.
The ban on fees was abolished by Emperor Claudius, who legalized advocacy as a profession and granted the Roman advocates to practice openly - but he also imposed a fee “cap” of 10,000 sesterces. The Satires of Juvenal complain that there was no money in working as an advocate; this goes to show that the Satires of Juvenal were money conscious.
Like their Greek coeval, early Roman advocates were trained in rhetoric, not law, and the Judges before whom they argued were also not trained in the law. But very early on, unlike Athens, Rome developed a class of specialists who became erudites in the law, they were known as “Jurisconsults”. “Jurisconsults” were wealthy amateurs who splashed around in law as an intellectual hobby. Advocates and ordinary people also went to “Jurisconsults” for legal opinions and advice.
Thus, the Romans were the first to have a class of people who spent their days thinking about legal problems, and this is why their law became so "precise, detailed, and technical".
During the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire, “Jurisconsults” and advocates were unregulated. Any citizen could label himself an advocate or a legal expert, though whether people believed him or not would depend upon his personal reputation. This changed once Claudius legalized the legal profession.
In 460, Emperor Leo imposed a prerequisite that new advocates seeking admission had to produce testimonials from their teachers; and by the sixth century, a regular course of legal study lasting about four years was required for admission. The notaries appeared in the late Roman Empire. Like their modern-day descendants: the civil law notaries; they were responsible for drafting wills, conveyances, and contracts.
In Roman times, notaries were widely considered to be inferior to advocates and “Jurisconsults”. Roman notaries were not law-trained; they were often barely literate, with an unfavorable reputation for wrapping simple transactions in ocean of legal jargon since they were paid by the line.
After the fall of the Western Empire and the onset of the Dark Ages, the legal profession of Western Europe collapsed. However, from 1150 onward, a small but increasing number of men became experts in canon law but only in furtherance of other occupational goals, such as serving the Roman Catholic Church as priests. From 1190 to 1230, there was a crucial shift in which some men began to practice canon law as a lifelong profession in itself. The legal profession's return was marked by the renewed efforts of church and state to regulate it.
In 1231, two French councils mandated that lawyers had to swear an oath of admission before practicing before the bishop's courts in their regions, and a similar oath was promulgated by the papal legate in London in 1237.
By 1250 the nucleus of a new Legal profession had clearly formed. The new trend towards professionalization culminated in a controversial proposal at the Second Council of Lyon in 1275 that all ecclesiastical courts should require an oath of admission.
Although not adopted by the council, it was highly influential in many such courts throughout Europe.
The civil courts in England also joined the trend towards professionalization; in 1275 a statute was enacted that prescribed punishment for professional lawyers guilty of deceit, and in 1280 the mayor's court of the city of London promulgated regulations concerning admission procedures, including the administering of an oath.
- IN NIGERIA
It is pertinent to note that the Nigerian legal profession is a spinal fusion of both solicitors and Barristers unlike what is obtainable in England and Scotland.
The detailed chronicle of the Legal profession in Nigeria is traceable to the period before the advent of the British into the territory now called Nigeria. Thus, in 1863, English law had its door into the colony of Lagos and courts were planted there too.
In 1876, the Supreme Court ordinance was enacted and it provided that the Chief Justice shall have the power to approve and enroll Barristers and solicitors to practice in the courts, it further provided that those person who shall qualify to practice law in Nigeria must have been called to bar in London, Dublin and Edinburg.
The practice of only those “married” to the bar in England to practice law in Nigeria visited with its attendant challenges and difficulties as these people were not learned or educated on existing laws of Nigeria, it was therefore difficult for them to render efficient services as legal practitioners.
Thus, there came the need